Marina DeLow and Clete Horn practice their Albanian mazurka while Mazurka Festival organizer Jay Valve looks on at the Blacktip Island Heritage House Friday morning. (Photo courtesy of Boris Orel)
A hastily-organized Blacktip Mazurka Festival will replace Blacktip Island’s traditional fall ConchFest this weekend. The eleventh-hour compromise by community leaders Wednesday night salvaged the island’s fall heritage event, cancelled after partisan infighting over the Caribbean island’s upcoming mayoral election between incumbent Jack Cobia and handyman Antonio Fletcher.
“Politics nearly ruined the island this time,” government watchdog Wade Soote said. “There’s no common ground anymore, no sense of community. And both sides saying they’re only ones with a claim to tradition.
“We hoped a long-standing event like ConchFest would heal some wounds,” Soote said. “Then Jack’s people and ‘Tonio’s people started in on ‘what do you mean by conch’ and what do I mean by conch,’ with neither side budging, and ConchFest was history.”
Event organizers said a board member’s off-the-cuff suggestion saved the festival.
“We couldn’t even have a meeting without a conch fight breaking out,” ConchFest chair Jay Valve said. “But we had to come up with something. That’s when Clete Horn threw out Albanian mazurka dancing.
“It’s perfect, really,” Valve said. “It speaks to the island’s multi-cultural diversity without being relevant to anyone or anything: it offends no one. No Blacktippers are even vaguely Albanian, none of us has been to Albania, and most of us can’t even spell it.”
To preserve the fragile truce, no conch or conch-related snacks will be sold at any restaurants or food booths.
“Our goal is to avoid any conch-related violence,” Valve said. “The last thing we need is people lobbing conch shells at each other. Or smacking folks in the face with raw conch, like at the last board meeting.”
The festival will also feature a polka dance-off, a traditional Albanian costume contest, and a no-holds-barred mazurka race from Eagle Ray Cove to Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort.
A last-minute addition is an underwater dance demonstration by island divemasters at Diddley’s Landing public pier at noon..
“The dive staffs felt left out, like our contributions to Blacktip culture were being overlooked,” Eagle Ray Cove divemaster Marina DeLow said. “The cool thing is dancing a mazurka underwater turns it into a slow waltz. It’s breathtaking, really. We tried a Liechtensteiner polka, but the magic just wasn’t there.”
Organizers are cautiously optimistic about the fall festival’s future.
“We’re hoping this will be a new tradition going forward, no matter how the election turns out” Valve said. “Funny thing is, the mayor doesn’t do anything. Or get paid. Before this conch kerfuffle, most people couldn’t tell you who the mayor was.”